Iowa Sex Abuse Lawsuits

If you were the victim of sexual abuse or assault, either as a child or an adult, you have the right to bring a civil lawsuit against both your abuser and any school, company, or organization that might be liable for the abuse.

In this post, we will provide a brief overview of sexual abuse lawsuits in Iowa. We will explain the applicable statute of limitations for sex abuse civil cases in Iowa and the potential settlement value of these cases.

What Qualifies as Sexual Abuse in Iowa?

The legal definition of sexual abuse or sexual assault in Iowa is essentially the same as it is in other states. Under Iowa law, any form of unwanted and intentional sexual touching or contact can qualify as sex abuse. The touching can be considered “sexual” when it involves a person’s intimate body parts.

As a practical matter, sex abuse can range from groping to forcible rape. The 2 key elements that must be present to meet the definition of sexual abuse are: (1) physical touching, and (2) lack of consent.

The first element of sex abuse is physical touching. To constitute sexual abuse or assault there must be actual physical contact of a sexual nature. Verbal sexual harassment is not enough.

The second element of sexual abuse or assault is the absence of consent. Lack of consent is the key element that defines all categories of sexual assault. If the sexual touching is not consensual it is automatically abuse or assault. Minors (anyone under the age of 18) lack the legal capacity to give consent, which means any sexual touching by an adult with a minor is necessarily considered sexual abuse.

Filing a Civil Lawsuit for Sexual Abuse in Iowa

Iowa law enables victims of sex abuse to bring civil lawsuits and seek financial compensation. A victim has a right to file a civil lawsuit at any time, and it is not contingent on whether the victim pressed criminal charges or whether the abuser was convicted. Even if the victim never reported the abuse to the police when it happened, they can still file a civil lawsuit.

Victims can bring civil lawsuits for sexual battery as long as they have the courage to testify under oath about the facts of the alleged sexual abuse or assault. The victim’s testimony can also be bolstered by additional evidence such as medical records or fact testimony from other witnesses.

If you file a sexual abuse lawsuit in Iowa, the civil case will be public record. However, victims who file sex abuse lawsuits can keep their names and identity confidential. Iowa’s court rules allow victims in these sensitive cases to use “Jane Doe” or initials in the court filings for privacy purposes. This means that people cannot go on the internet and easily find out the details of your case.

Holding Third-Party Defendants Liable for Sex Abuse

The most direct defendant in a civil lawsuit related to sexual abuse would typically be the individual who perpetrated the abuse or assault. However, suing the abuser may be pointless if that person is deceased, incarcerated, or lacks the financial means to satisfy a verdict or settlement in the lawsuit.

The key to a successful sexual abuse lawsuit lies in targeting financially viable third parties, such as schools, churches, or corporations. These entities can be held accountable if the victim can demonstrate their negligence in preventing the sexual abuse or in safeguarding the victim. They also have insurance or financial resources to pay compensation to victims.

Here is an illustrative example of how suing a third party often works. Let’s say Jane experienced sexual abuse by her high school teacher, Jim. Although Jane did not disclose the abuse, the school had received other reports and complaints about Jim’s inappropriate conduct with students, which it failed to investigate. In this case, Jane could bring a sexual abuse lawsuit against the school, alleging negligence in its failure to investigate Jim and protect Jane and other students from potential harm.

Iowa Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

Iowa has some of the worst and most restrictive statute of limitation laws in the country when it comes to claims involving child sexual abuse. Victims of child sexual abuse in Iowa only have 1 year after they turn 18 in order to file a civil lawsuit for child sexual abuse. So victims must file before their 19th birthday or their claim will be time-barred. Iowa Code §§ 614.8. To give you an idea of how absurd this is, 19-year-olds are not even considered to adults in over a dozen states.

In 2021, Iowa revised its SOL law somewhat to create a longer SOL deadline for sexual abuse claims against teachers, counselors, and school employees. For these cases, the SOL is the later of 5 years from the last treatment or the last date victim attended school, or age 19. Iowa does also have a discovery rule. Iowa earned a grade of F on our state child sexual abuse statute of limitations report card.

Iowa’s Discovery Rule

The discovery rule is a common-law exception to the statute of limitations, which holds that a cause of action is not recognized until the plaintiff has discovered the injury or should have, with reasonable diligence, discovered it. This rule implies that the statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff becomes aware of, or should become aware of, the injury.  A party is considered to be on inquiry notice when they possess enough facts to suspect a problem or potential problem.

From this point, they are deemed to have knowledge of facts that a reasonably diligent investigation would have revealed. Thus, upon recognizing a potential issue, there is a duty to investigate the nature of the problem causing the injury, even if the full implications are not yet clear.  Be careful with the discovery rule.  Do not assume that it will apply to your case.  Too many people sit on their rights, assuming the discovery rule will save them.  Contact a lawyer as soon as you think you may have a potential sex abuse lawsuit.

Collateral Estoppel in Iowa Sex Abuse Lawsuits

In Iowa, the principle of collateral estoppel plays a crucial role in connecting criminal convictions to subsequent civil litigation. This legal doctrine prevents an individual from re-litigating an issue once it has been resolved by a court, and a guilty plea in a criminal case can often establish fault in a related civil action. This means that if a defendant pleads guilty to a crime related to civil claims, such as sexual assault or battery, this plea can be used to substantiate these claims in civil court. The criminal admission effectively seals the defendant’s responsibility for the acts under civil law, precluding the defendant from contesting the same issues in the civil lawsuit.

Additionally, the guilty plea in a criminal case may influence civil liability, particularly in personal injury cases such as those involving assault and battery. The acknowledgment of wrongdoing in the criminal plea can confirm the elements of these civil claims, linking the defendant’s actions directly to the harm suffered by the plaintiff.

The only caveat is that the burden of proof needs to be the same.  Most school or clergy sexual abuse lawsuits include claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress. This claim demands a higher burden of proof. Plaintiffs must demonstrate that the defendant’s conduct was not only outrageous but also directly caused severe or extreme emotional distress. Unlike in sex abuse or assault claims, a criminal conviction alone may not satisfy the burden of proving such distress under civil law.

Iowa Sex Abuse Settlements & Verdicts

  • $9,000,000 Settlement: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport agreed to settle 37 claims of sexual abuse for $9,000,000. The acts of abuse occurred between the 1950s thru the 1970s, so the claims were legally time-barred under Iowa law. The names of 5 of the 11 priests named by the victims were released: Francis E. Bass, William F. Wiebler, Theordore Anthony Geerts, Drake R. Shafer and Rev. James Janssen.
  • $1,500,000 Verdict: A 13-year-old male alleged that he suffered emotional distress when he was sexually molested by a nonparty priest at the defendant’s church. The plaintiff contended that the defendant failed to perform a background check on its priests, failed to take evasive action after being informed of the incident, failed to ensure the safety of the minor churchgoers entrusted in its care and that its negligence was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The defendant denied liability.
  • $127,000,000 Verdict: A 13-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by defendant J.H., a 44-year-old male. J.H. reportedly provided alcohol for an overnight party for his son and friends and allegedly engaged in sexual intercourse with the plaintiff and performed other sex acts on her while she was intoxicated. J.H. allegedly pled guilty to one count of lascivious acts with a child and five counts of providing alcohol to a minor. The minor’s parents asserted claims alleging sexual assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision. There was no third party defendant so its not clear if the plaintiff ever collected much of this verdict.
  • $1,890,000 Verdict: Plaintiff alleged that he was sexually abused by his uncle, Rev. James Janssen, a priest in the Diocese of Davenport. Initially the Uncle admitted to the abuse, but he later recanted on the witness stand. Janssen faced other abuse allegations and was removed from the priesthood in 2004.
  • $5,000,000 Settlement: The Archdiocese of Dubuque agreed to pay $5 million to a group of 20 victims that were molested by clergy in northeast Iowa dating back 50 years. In addition to the settlement funds, the archdiocese also agreed to pay for therapy for victims and their spouses. The names and assignments of those priests credibly accused of sexual abusing children was also released.
  • $37,000,000 Settlement: In 2006, the Archdiocese of Davenport filed for bankruptcy. The Diocese agreed to a settlement that would pay $37 million to a group of 156 alleged abuse victims and this resolved the bankruptcy.

Iowa Sex Abuse News & Updates

May 5, 2024: Dr. Lynn Lindaman, a 73-year-old orthopedic surgeon from Des Moines, Iowa, has agreed to the revocation of his medical license following a criminal conviction for sexual abuse in February.

Lindaman was convicted of second-degree sexual abuse involving a minor in 2023, and he still faces a separate civil lawsuit alleging that he sexually assaulted a minor in 1975 at a sports camp.

The lawsuit alleges that in July 1975, while attending a gymnasts’ summer sports camp at the University of Iowa, a 14-year-old was sexually assaulted by Lindaman, who was then 24, a counselor and athletic trainer at the camp, during treatment for a back injury. Lindaman was arrested and convicted on Feb. 26, 1976, of lascivious acts with a person under the age of 16.  The trial for the lawsuit is scheduled for May 2025.

Despite a 1976 conviction for lascivious acts with a minor, Lindaman was tragically later licensed to practice medicine in Iowa. His professional conduct came under scrutiny again in 2020 when an attempt was made to revoke his license, although the Iowa Board of Medicine took no action then.

He was sentenced this week to 50 years in prison.

April 26, 2024: An Iowa district judge has recently made a ruling in favor of the Archdiocese of Dubuque on multiple counts in a lawsuit brought by an individual alleging sexual abuse by a former priest.

District Court Judge John Telleen granted the Archdiocese summary judgment on the counts of assault and battery, sexual abuse, and intentional infliction of emotional distress following a motion for summary judgment from the Archdiocese. However, Telleen denied the archdiocese’s motion for summary judgment on a related count of negligent supervision and/or retention, which will proceed to trial.

The allegations stem from a 2021 sex abuse lawsuit filed in the Iowa District Court of Clinton County, where the plaintiff seeks punitive damages related to abuse reportedly committed by William Goltz. Goltz, a priest who had been assigned to a church in Dubuque and had previous accusations of abuse, including incidents in Oelwein, Iowa, died in 2006. The lawsuit also mentions abuse by William Wiebler, another priest, asserting that the abuses by Goltz and Wiebler occurred at various locations in Iowa from 1964 to 1966.

In its defense, the Archdiocese argued that it was not vicariously liable for Goltz’s actions outside the scope of his employment. For the count of negligent supervision and/or retention, the archdiocese contended that the alleged abuses, which occurred over 50 years ago, were barred by the statute of limitations.

Judge Telleen, however, citing relevant case law that offers flexibility in applying the statute of limitations to child sexual abuse cases—acknowledging the potential for victims to repress traumatic memories—denied the motion. The basis for the denial is the plaintiff’s claim that he did not recall the abuse by Goltz until 2021, which led to the filing of the lawsuit.

The case is scheduled for trial on March 17, 2025, unless settled beforehand, as it likely will.

March 5, 2024: A sex abuse lawsuit filed against the East Sac County school district by the mother of a teenage boy who had a relationship with a high school teacher will be heard in federal court rather than Sac County.

The boy’s mother sued the school district, alleging it failed to adequately supervise special education teacher Stefanie Kelsey and investigate rumors of her affair with the mother’s teenage son. According to the lawsuit, that lack of action denied the mother and son their constitutional equal protection rights.

According to the lawsuit, Kelsey sent numerous nude photos to the boy and had sex with him regularly from December 2021 until March 4, 2022, when the boy was a freshman and age 14 and 15.

The school seemed to bury its head in the sand. The mother said in the lawsuit that administrators (now no longer employed by the East Sac County district) did not search for her son when he was reported absent from classes. During some of his absences, he was in Kelsey’s classroom, where they sometimes had sex behind locked doors.

The lawsuit said at least two parents called school officials to report rumors of their relationship and photos, but no investigation was done. School officials spoke to Kelsey in January or February 2022 about the rumors, which she denied. The boy was never interviewed, and his mother was not contacted.

The mother contacted the Sac County Sheriff’s Office after receiving copies of text messages her son had sent to another teen that indicated he’d been having sex with Kelse, who was arrested two days later.

Kelsey, now 36, later pleaded guilty to single counts of third-degree abuse and exploitation by a school employee and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

February 18, 2024

A woman has requested a judge to dismiss her lawsuit against a University of Iowa student whom she had accused of sharing a video recording of her sexual assault. The case against the individual is to be dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled, though no specific reasons for the dismissal were provided in court documents.

The separate, ongoing lawsuit involving two other former University of Iowa students and the university’s Phi Gamma Delta fraternity chapter, however, is still set for trial on November 5. This trial stems from an incident in September 2020, where the woman alleges she was drugged and assaulted at the fraternity’s house. The accused individuals reportedly shared images and video of the assault in a fraternity group chat. The case has garnered significant public attention, leading to protests and social media campaigns.

Additionally, one of the accused has initiated a lawsuit for libel and slander against 24 individuals, claiming that the accusations have harmed his reputation and impacted his personal and professional life. He maintains his innocence against the allegations.

February 24, 2023

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that a city cannot be held vicariously liable for the sexual assault committed by a police officer, stating the assault was not within the scope of the officer’s employment.

The Iowa high court found that the officer’s actions, which included misleading conduct to conceal the assault, did not serve any purpose for his employer, thus severing the link required for vicarious liability. Additionally, the court rejected an attempt to extend liability to the city based on the “aided by agency” theory, which would have broadened the scope of employer liability to include acts facilitated by the employment relationship.

The underlying incident involved a police officer who exploited his professional role to commit a sexual assault after offering a ride home to an intoxicated woman. According to the court, this conduct represented a significant deviation from the officer’s duties. The court’s decision highlighted the legal boundaries of employer liability, emphasizing that the officer’s actions were too far removed from his official duties to be considered within the scope of his employment.

This ruling reaffirms the principle that for an employer to be held liable in a sex abuse lawsuit for the actions of an employee under vicarious liability, those actions must align more closely with the employee’s professional role. The court’s refusal to expand the “aided by agency” theory underscores the judicial restraint exercised in extending employer liability in cases involving personal misconduct by employees under the guise of professional authority.

So how can you win a civil sexual assault claim in a case like this?  The path to third-party liability would be negligent hiring or negligent retention, but these claims were not brought, likely because the evidence was just not there.

Contact Us About Iowa Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Our lawyers handle sex abuse lawsuits across the country. Call our sexual abuse lawyers at 800-553-8082 for a free consultation or try reaching out online or by text at 410-835-4103.

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